Nina Kaminen-Ahola
Group Leader

Department of Medical

P.O. Box 63
(Haartmaninkatu 8)
00014 University of Helsinki


+358 (0)50 4482768

Research Group of Environmental Epigenetics

Our research strives to understand how the environment affects our gene function. The epigenome is a key regulator of gene expression. It includes a number of regulating factors that affect gene transcription without altering the DNA sequence. We study the mechanisms by which the environment affects the epigenome and, hence, gene function.

We are interested in the effect of the prenatal environment on fetal development. Epigenetic regulation mechanisms are known to steer normal ontogenesis. Through a series of cell divisions and differentiations, a single zygote develops into a fully functional adult comprising several cell types. This sequence of events in the womb is carefully regulated. Specific genes must function with the correct intensity, at the correct time, and in the correct type of cell.

We are particularly interested in the beginning of the pregnancy. At this time, the epigenome seems to reset to default and the first cells are made capable of differentiating into several cell types. This is known as epigenetic reprogramming. Reprogramming also erases epigenetic changes accumulated by the parents during their lifetime, thus preventing them from burdening later generations. During this period, the epigenome is particularly sensitive to environmental factors. Changes in the developing epigenome may affect fetal development and, hence, the health and wellbeing of the individual throughout their lifetime.